If you’ve been watching Olympic figure skating, you know that skaters get judged on technical merit and artistic interpretation.
And, as they’re skating, colored squares appear in the corner of the screen to show how well they executed the program’s required elements.
A green box means the side-by-side triple axels were spot on. A yellow box means the judges want to look at the footwork sequence again and a red box means your twizzles fizzled.
Fortunately, picture books don’t have a grading system like this. Each reader is free to decide whether a book worked — or not.
But if picture books did have a formal rating system, I’d give the book below green boxes across the board for its high level of difficulty and its artistic heart.
KATE, WHO TAMED THE WIND
The author and illustrator
Liz Garton Scanlon and Lee White
Schwartz & Wade, this month
A man who lives alone in a creaky house on the top of a very tall hill doesn’t know what to do about the never-ending wind that blows his hat off, makes his shutters bang, tips over his table and spills his tea. Fortunately, Kate, from the town at the bottom of the hill, knows a thing or two about trees — and how they can serve as a windbreak.
This is a cumulative story with repeating elements and phrases. Writing a story in this format is very difficult to do well, and Liz pulls it off beautifully. I read this several times studying the pattern and decided that replicating it would be extremely hard, and I do not intend to try. Instead, I will just marvel at the skill and technical excellence that are in the pages. That the story flows so smoothly, stays on-plot and remains interesting until the very last word is a triumph of storytelling at its finest. An example:
The wind blew, the shutters banged, the boards bent, the table tipped, and the tea spilled.
The tea spilled and the bread broke on the tippy table in the creaky house at the tip-top of the steep hill.
And still the wind blew.
It’s a story about wind and trees. But it’s also about kindness. Kate has never met the man at the top of the hill but she returns his hat when it lands at her feet and helps solve his problem. And she doesn’t just come up with the idea. She puts in the hard physical work to plant the trees and keep them growing. And it’s a story about patience. Trees take quite a while to get big enough to tame the wind, and Kate is there through it all. Which also makes it a story about friendship. Kate and the man become friends working on the trees and drinking tea.
That extra something
What sets great skaters apart from good skaters is a little something extra. Style. Charisma. Personality. A trick no one else can do. In this book, the extra something is an author’s note titled “More About Marvelous Trees.” It talks about how trees can shelter people from the wind, prevent erosion, improve air quality and provide a home for wildlife. It also provides websites readers or teachers can visit for details. This note adds a new layer of meaning to the story.
So on your break from watching the Olympics, track down this gold-medal-winning picture book.